Tiny Colton, SD, population 687 in the 2010 census, is making South Dakota history, but first, let’s return to March of 2013, and, of all sources, National Public Radio:
South Dakota on Friday [03-08-13] became what’s ‘believed to be the first state to pass a law that specifically allows teachers to carry firearms,’ as The New York Times writes.
‘Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) signed the ‘school sentinels’ bill that gives districts the right to ‘create, establish, and supervise the arming of school employees, hired security personnel, or volunteers.’ In some other states, less specific provisions in current laws could give school employees the right to carry arms. As NBC News has reported, 18 states ‘allow adults to have a loaded gun on school grounds, usually as long as they have written permission.’
South Dakota’s Argus Leader writes the the law signed today was ‘hotly debated this legislative session … it was pitched as a way for small schools without nearby law enforcement to protect themselves against shooters or other dangers.
Such pitching would be right down the plate. In many areas of the nation, particularly rural areas, law enforcement response time is poor at best, which is usually not the fault of the police. Vast distance and few officers conspire against the best intentions.
The Rapid City Journal says the law has been enacted ‘despite opposition from the education community.’ Don Kirkegaard, superintendent of the Meade School District, tells the Journal that ‘I just wish … everybody would have talked a little bit together before we started passing legislation.’ [skip]
The law goes on to state that:
— ‘Any person who acts as a school sentinel … shall first successfully complete a school sentinel training course as defined by the Law Enforcement Officers Standards Commission.’
— Districts may not require any teacher or school employee to arm themselves, and ‘no individual teacher or other school employee may be censured, criticized, or discriminated against for unwillingness or refusal to carry firearms pursuant to this Act.’
— ‘The failure or refusal of any school board to implement a school sentinel program does not constitute a cause of action against the board, the school district, or any of its employees.’
— ‘A decision by a school board to implement a school sentinel program pursuant to section 1 of this Act may be referred to a vote of the qualified voters of the school district by the filing of a petition signed by five percent of the registered voters in the school district.
The law outlaws firearms–even air guns–on campus by anyone other than a law enforcement officer, or school sentinel. However, it allows starting pistols, firearms or air guns used for school sponsored events, or unloaded guns used for ceremonial purposes.
South Dakota is generally a conservative state with a history of appreciation of the Second Amendment. It often elects Democrats, even to the Senate, but those politicians must at least give lip service to gun rights.
The requirements for becoming a “sentinel” are onerous, according to the SD Law Enforcement Training Commission:
2:01:16:02. Approved basic training course. The basic training course for a school sentinel consists of a curriculum of at least 80 hours of training and includes the following subject areas:
(1) Firearms proficiency;
(2) Use of force;
(3) Legal aspects;
(4) Weapons retention;
(5) Weapons storage;
(6) Identifying protocol for identifying sentinel; and
(7) First aid.
Eighty hours is two weeks, and an annual eight-hour refresher course is apparently required. This is obviously a political compromise. You want guns in schools? We’re going to make it so difficult that few, if any, will ever be able to do it. This requirement alone makes clear that the SD legislature does not understand the fundamental principle of arming school staff–and a model policy for school concealed carry–as I outlined it in Schools and Concealed Carry: Overregulation and Micromanagement:
…to have as many armed staff members present in every school as possible, so that when and wherever an attack takes place, there will be multiple armed and capable adults ready, then and there, at that instant, to save lives.
Keeping the fundamental principle in mind is absolutely essential. If it is not the guiding light of any school concealed carry policy, legislatures and schools are likely to adopt restrictions that unnecessarily discourage teachers and staff from being able to protect their students.
In this case, the issue is the requirement of law-enforcement officer-like training. Obviously, basic police training is more in-depth and takes longer than “sentinel” training, but consider that in SD and elsewhere citizens are issued concealed carry licenses with a far less involved training requirement:
A qualifying handgun course is any handgun course that is taught by a National Rifle Association certified instructor who also holds a current certificate of completion from the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation on the use of force. The qualifying handgun course must include instruction in each of the following:
- South Dakota law relating to firearms and the use of force;
- The basic concepts of the safe and responsible use of handguns;
- Self-defense principles; and
Live fire training including the firing of at least ninety-eight rounds of ammunition by the student (SDCL 23-7-58).
In essence, the minimum knowledge for anyone carrying a concealed handgun, in schools or elsewhere, is knowledge of the laws relating to use of force, and a reasonable level of skill with one’s handgun. Basic and more advanced tactical training is surely worthwhile and should be sought by anyone carrying a concealed handgun, but is not absolutely necessary, particularly when the fundamental principle is considered. If concealed weapons are necessary to deter attacks and save lives, how can unnecessary delays be countenanced?
School staff carrying concealed weapons are not police officers, nor do they need to have police training. They, like any citizen carrying a concealed weapon will use their weapons only as a last resort, only when they, or another, are in imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death. Properly done, no one will ever know they are carrying a handgun, which is as it should be.
Any school policy must publicize the fact that staff are armed, but never disclose their numbers or distribution. This provides deterrence for every school in a school district. It must also require every staff member to carry their handgun on their person. What good is a gun locked in a safe, drawer or armory when a teacher is confronted in a hallway, while waiting for school busses, or on a playground, by an armed attacker? The fundamental principle must be the controlling principle.
Even in Colton, SD, the Tri-Valley School District, no one is going to be carrying handguns anytime soon. KDLT.com reports:
The Tri-Valley School District already has security cameras, a school resource officer and a new panic button inside schools, but the school board says that’s not enough to ensure safety.
Monday night, board members authorized a Sentinel Program, and although more work needs to be done, this paves the way for staff or volunteers to carry a weapon on school grounds.
Both the superintendent and the chairman of the Tri-Valley School Board say the idea for this program doesn’t come from a knee jerk reaction to any event or threat, it’s simply a preventative measure they want to take.
And a lot of that stems from where the schools are located.
‘Due to our districts location we felt the need to plan for a possible longer response time by law enforcement, because we are out here in the middle of the country,’ says Chairman Leslie Johnson, which is where the Sentinel Program comes into play.
‘Most threats on a school, they’re well-orchestrated planned out threats,’ says Superintendent Mike Lodmel. ‘It’s not just any individual walking the street, so we wanted to have a backup plan for that.’
‘Hopefully it will sit there and we will never have to do anything with it,’ adds Johnson. ‘But if something tragic happened at this school and we didn’t do it, you’ll always be asking what if.’
On the other side of that what-if spectrum, the Superintendent is confident accidental shootings or unintended violence will not happen if the program is put into place.
‘I have 100 percent no concerns in that area,’ says Lodmel. ‘I believe we have proper procedures in place that that is not going to be an issue. Our student’s safety deserves this and it’s the right decision.
In order for their policy to be implemented, the school board must have one final reading in April, which will approve the policy. Unfortunately, it will be a policy in name only. Until teachers are actually trained by the state law enforcement academy, which in South Dakota is run by the state Division of Criminal Investigation, they cannot be certified as “sentinels,” and cannot carry concealed weapons on school grounds, even though they may do so, if they have a concealed weapons permit, off school grounds. The DCI does not allow people to just drop in for training. It must be scheduled many months in advance, and if only two or three Tri-Valley teachers wish to be Sentinels, will the DCI schedule a class? Currently there are no Sentinels in SD. None. The law has been in effect for three years. Perhaps the legislature might want to consider that their own legislation has served to help prevent anyone from protecting children.
Consider that: a teacher/parent with a concealed carry permit has the means to protect the lives of their children, except at school. Step on school property, and they immediately lose their Second Amendment rights, and the unalienable right to self-defense.
The SD legislature obviously has good intentions, but they have fallen victim to the universal governmental impulse to overregulate and micromanage, in this case in the name of student safety. That will work until the first time a school is attacked and there are no armed staff present because the requirements of the School Sentinel law made it too difficult. Ignoring the fundamental principle makes no one safe.